Whenever away from home, there are things that are different. It doesn’t matter if you’re across the street or across of an ocean. Change is guaranteed. However, when crossing an ocean, that change tends to be a bit bigger. Let’s start with the things that are similar then move to the bigger things.
La Musique et Les Films
In short, what is popular in America is popular here. For instance, when my host parents picked me up, they had a Nora Jones CD playing, my host mom has a Michael Jackson CD in the car, there’s a Kung Fu Panda poster on the way downtown, and there’s a giant poster for Mon Beau-Père et Moi Nous (Little Fockers) in the city center.
Les Transports Publics
More or less, the tram is exactly the same as the lightrail in Minneapolis. I paid 37€ for a month of riding. When you get on the tram, instead of holding your card to a sensor on the platform, you have to touch your card to a sensor inside the train. Although this city is slightly smaller than Minneapolis with about 300,000 people (I think Minneapolis has about 400,000 people), there are two tram lines. Line 1 is blue and Line 2 is orange with flowers. Just like Minneapolis, free riders are a big problem. Also like Minneapolis, the end of one of the lines is a really big shopping center called L’Odysseum.
La Confiture (Jam)
In America, we put Jam on our toast, but our toast is much less interesting. While we only have fruits like strawberry, blueberry, or raspberry, here I found a new favorite kind of Jam: Confiture de Châtaignes. A châtaigne is a chestnut and the jam is amazing! If I had to compare it to something, it’s kind of like Seri Kaya (but most people reading this probably don’t know what that is either). It is smooth and has an almost creamy undertone. In any case, I’m definitely buying some and bringing it back to the States. Also, I don’t know if this is true in all French families, but my family puts butter and jam, honey, or sugar on their toast. In the US the only person I know who does butter and topping instead of butter or topping is my mom. Mom, I finally found someone who shares your toast topping preference!
They use a 24 hour clock here. It takes some getting used to.
Le Clavier (Keyboard)
In the program office, there are a bunch of computers with French keyboards. When I type French compositions, I switch my American keyboard to the French one because it’s easier to have all the accents on the number keys. Also, the French use AZERTY as opposed to the American QWERTY.
Les Virgules et les Points (Commas and Periods)
Commas are used as decimals instead of periods. Periods are used to separate dates. Spaces are used to separate numbers greater than 1,000. For example the number 125,600.00 would be written 125 600,00.
Le Carnet de Rendez-Vous (Date Book)
The first thing you will notice is the general format is different. At home, out week is spread across two pages, but appointments and notes are written next to the date. Here, they are written under the date. Also, the week starts on Monday (Lundi) and Sunday (Dimanche) is at the end of the week. This makes sense with the Christian tradition here. On the last day God rested.
Aller à Vélo (Biking)
I love my bike. At home, my bike is my car. Naturally, when I found out I had a bike here, I was really happy. However, I think the bike is going to stay in the garage for a little bit until I figure out all the rules. In Minneapolis, I am spoiled. Cars, for the most part slow down and move over. Although cars will generally move over here, they don’t seem to slow down at all. Montpellier is very hilly. The two kilometers from the apartment to downtown is a constant downhill. Of course, that means coming back, it’s a constant uphill.
Perhaps the most bizarre thing about biking here is the bike lanes. In the States, bikes are on the street right next to cars. On campus, where bike paths invade pedestrian areas, nobody walks in the bike paths. Here, the bike paths are on the sidewalk and have a curb separating them from the street. Pedestrians invade these paths all the time and I have made frequent use of my bell or “Pardon.”
For those who say the French are rude, maybe you just need to come to Southern France. Montpellier is the 8th biggest city in France so you might expect to see the big city manners of places like New York. At least in terms of driving, this is not so. On my way downtown today, I was stopped on a one-lane/one-way street behind a line of about three cars waiting for a woman to take several boxes out of her car. In Milwaukee, horns would be sounding, perhaps profanities would be yelled. Here, while I nervously checked my watch, motorists sat silently in their cars patiently waiting for her to unload. Looking back, when my host mom took me to see my paths to school and downtown in her car, we would stop frequently so she could point out signs or landmarks. Nobody honked, even on little streets where we couldn’t be passed. Come to think of it, I don’t even know if French car horns sound the same as ours because I’ve never heard one.
Prendre Une Douche (Taking a Shower)
Here’s a picture of the bathroom. Notice anything?
There’s no shower and no curtain (also, the toilet is in a different room but that wasn’t that big of a deal). Needless to say, the first time I took a shower was, well, it was interesting. Also take a look at the towel I was given. I put the folder there just for size comparison. I think it’s about one meter long and about half a meter wide.
- Confused and too embarrassed to ask my host parents I turned to my best friend in these awkward situations, Google, to help me figure out how people bath without getting water everywhere and use these tiny towels. I figured some poor, American, blog-keeping student before me would have the same problem and write about it. However, this yielded no results. Instead, I had to suck it up and ask my host mother. She laughed a little at the question but answered it nonetheless. So, for all you future foreign exchange students confused by your small towel and curtainless bath, here is how to shower in France:
- First, to avoid getting water everywhere, here’s the secret. Turn off the water. That is, if you’re not rinsing yourself off, keep the water off. Turn it on when you enter the tub to get your hair and body wet. Turn it off. Wash your hair and body. Turn on the water to rinse out the soap. Done! That wasn’t that hard, was it?
- Now for the towel business. In France towels serve one purpose. They are to dry yourself off only. If you want to cover yourself, you have to bring your own towel or get a bath robe. My host mother said that the French even wear their bathrobes to the beach! Luckily my family has a big “American-sized” towel so my host mom let me use that one instead.
- That’s all I have for now, but I haven’t even been here a week yet. I’m sure I’ll be writing about other cultural differences over the course of my stay here.